Sales Management: The Art Of The Question
This literature review I will be reviewing the art of the question in the sales process. This involves understanding the various types of questions that can be used by sales representatives to get the customers go through the sales process. By using the right set of questions at the right time sales representatives will be able to understand the needs of the customers and try to find a solution to their problems.
While initiating conversation with a customer the biggest problem sales reps have these days is building rapport. Because in most cases sales reps start going over their sales pitch as soon as they touch base with a customer. This is not an effective approach in sales. By using the various types of questioning methods sales reps can build rapport by having regular conversation based on your questions which may not be related to the product you are trying to sell. By not trying to force the sale and take that initial time to build rapport can help you get a sale from the customer or even get a referral from the customer if the product doesn’t suit his needs. By asking a customer a certain question you get them to start thinking about it and not just turn you down because you are trying to sell them something. This is why the art of questioning is a very powerful tool which can be applied in sales. As stated by Adubato ‘One of the most effective questioning techniques is called the ‘funnel’ approach. Picture what a funnel looks like-wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. The idea is to ask broad, very general questions at the beginning and continue to narrow the focus of your questions with greater specificity. Your goal is to draw out your audience, be it one or one hundred, in an effort to capture their true wants, hopes, and needs.’ (Pg. 24, 2007). This article talks about the importance of asking the right questions at the right time. If used effectively it can help all sales professionals in making their job easier as it would be an easy method to build trust and understand the needs of the customer
Types of questions
The different types of question I would be going through are qualifying questions, open ended questions, probing questions, confirming questions, follow up questions and leading questions. It is important to understand all the various types of questions and apply them at the right time in the sales process. It would not make sense if you just keep asking customers several questions, it is also important listen to the customers response to your question and help him identify the problems he is facing. This is why sales reps are more of consultants these days as they are trying to solve a customer’s problem. Another example could be doctors as they don’t just prescribe medication to patients just by looking at them. They try and understand the problem by asking several questions to try and understand their problem. This way the patient forms a sense of trust towards the doctor as he is trying to diagnose and solve his health problems.
This is a very useful form of questioning as it helps you identify the right customer and not waste time with customers which are not the right fit for the product. Therefore this is helps in the filtering out the right customers ideal for the product you are trying to sell. Based on my experience in door to door sales where I sold home security this was a very important tool which helped me save time and be efficient. One of the qualifying questions I used to ask was ‘Are you the home owner ?’. This helped me filter out customers who were renters and home owners as renters were not allowed to make modifications to their homes and add home security they were not a suitable candidate for my product. Therefore a qualifying question was the first question I would ask a customer after introducing myself so that I would not have to waste time going through the whole sales process with a renter. Another situation I would use a qualifying question in my job was much later in the sales process once they show interest the product and to try and assess if the person I am talking to is the decision maker. So one of the qualifying questions I used was ‘Are you the decision maker?’. By getting a response I would have a fair idea if the customer is the final decision maker or has a spouse who needs to give an approval on the final decision. This can be used in all forms of sales as you always want to identify who is the final decision maker therefore you can directly focus your effort on reaching the right person and taking them through the sales process.
This is a very important question which everyone can use in sales. As stated by Schuster and Danes ‘In general, open questions occur near the beginning of a sales conversation to encourage the customer to talk and to build rapport by showing that the salesperson is interested in the customer’s point of view. Since open questions identify a topic but do not provide structured alternatives for responses, they give customers the freedom and responsibility to develop a response using their own information, frame of reference, and interpretation.’ (Pg 20,1986). This essay gives us an idea how valuable open ended questions can lead to building rapport with a customer. An open ended question gives the customer an opportunity explain their problems and concerns related to the question. Therefore if you are able to solve their problems by providing them with a solution with your product you are trying to sell it is more likely that the they would end up buying the product if it is a benefit to them. While selling home security door to door I noticed most of the customers already had an existing security system in place and this would not deter me from having a conversation with them about it. Therefore one of the open ended questions I would often ask was ‘What was the reason you had a security system set up in your house ?’ This would therefore get the customer to explain the reasons behind them getting the home security system. Therefore I would be able to identify what the problems they were facing and if my product would be able to solve their problem a lot more efficiently. Sometimes customers may not even be happy with the product they are already using and would be curious to find out if what I was offering provided a lot more value to them compared to what they had purchased. The biggest mistake sales rep make is they tend to ask more close ended questions than open ended questions. Therefore this eliminates customers from providing additional information than what you had specifically asked them. A typical example in my experience selling alarms was ‘Do you like your current home security ?’ I would get a Yes or No answer as a response which would not help me in any way to move forward in the sales process. Whereas if I use an open ended question like ‘ What has your experience been with your current security provider ?’ this way I would get a lot more in depth response about the pro’s or cons of their current security provider therefore I would be able to help them out if they are facing any issues and provide them with much superior service which is more valuable to them.
Confirming questions are an important technique for a sales rep to find out if the customer has understood the product features after listening to the presentation made by the sales rep. As stated by Karaman ‘The sales process can sometimes be a long and complicated process for all parties involved. For the prospect, they not only have to fully understand the problem that they are currently having but also fully comprehend and appreciate the value that your product/service provides. This means that in some instances, salespeople will be required to go through several rounds of questions, answers, and presentations. For prospects and customers, this can become a confusing process as they try to comprehend all the information that they are being presented with.'(2018). This article helps us understand the customers perspective of listening to a sales presentation. Usually it is a lot of information that a customer has to take in at a short span of time which can be overwhelming. Therefore it is important to ask questions to confirm or clarify if the customer has clearly understood the presentation so far. This way if they are specifically interested in something they will be inclined to ask a question regarding the product. In my field of work selling smart home systems we sold an multiple products which catered to different life styles. It ranged from surveillance outdoor cameras, smoke detectors and fire alarms. Usually it confused the customer if I spoke about all the products in detail. Therefore I would give them a brief idea of all the products and ask them which one interested them the most. Therefore I would be able to elaborate in detail a certain product which could benefit the customer based on their needs.
Leading questions are an effective method to lead customers towards the sale. This can be done very subtly. A technique I used to use in door to door sale was very effective. While I present the home security products to a customer I always did a walk-through of the house along with the customer and provide them a visual understanding of where they would hypothetically have the product installed in the house. This way they have already started thinking of using or having the product in their home at their desired location. Question like ‘where would you want your outdoor camera?’ This would get them thinking and they would provide me an exact location of the camera placement based on their needs. It can be in the front of the house to watch their vehicles or the backyard to watch their kids. It varies based on customers and these questions give you an insight into what need the customer has so therefore you can build more value by providing them solutions to their needs. This can be a useful tool for customers who aren’t very sure about purchasing the product once they get a visual representation on how they would be using the product they understand the value it would bring to their lives.
Follow up questions
Follow up question can be a useful method to set up possibly different time and date to finalise the sale. This can be simple questions like ‘When can we meet with the decision maker to finalise the deal?’. It is important to set up a time and place for meetings as sometimes people might be busy and might not be in the right state of mind to make a decision. Sometimes you have to follow up with your customer because the might not be the right decision maker so you have to set up and appointment with them to get the final deal. Prompt follow up also gives the customer a feeling that the sales person is professional and is taking out time to service the customer based on their needs. Follow up questions also can be used to steer the customer into providing additional information on a certain product they might have possible shown some interest. Based on my experience in selling home security when a customer shows a sign of interest towards a certain product I am presenting I usually stop my presentation and ask them ‘why do you like this product?’ and they give me very specific reasons for why the product would fit for them. Another good follow up question can be used after the sale is finalised. An effective question I used was ‘Do you have friends or family who may be interested in the same product?’. This way since you have already built trust with the customer it is more likely that they would refer you to a friend or family to help you out.
Probing question can be used effectively to build rapport and gain a lot more information about the needs of the customer. One of the ways I effectively used probing questions was by asking them questions like ‘If you wanted to get cameras for your home where would you place them and why ?’ This way they would give me a lot more information about the vulnerable access points of their house so I know that this is a problem the customer is facing. Also questions like ‘What was the reason you got a security system set up ?’ Sometimes customers tell me stories about the crime in the neighbourhood this gives me a lot of information about the area so it is a good tool to prospect in the area as well. Getting all these minute details about the neighbourhood can give you credibility as you become an expert in the area. People tend to trust a product expert and people who have more knowledge than them about a certain product. This way they don’t treat use as a sales person but more of a consultant to try and use your help to solve their problems.
The art of questioning has benefits not to just sales reps but also sales managers. This can help them manage and assess their current team performance by asking the right questions. It can also help managers in the interview process. The art of questioning is an effective tool which would help any sales rep progress in their career and also help later when they get into management positions. Asking the right questions in an interview is key as it may be the deal breaker in getting the right person for the required job role. The more a person gets good at asking the right question the more confident they become. People tend to buy from confident sales reps who aren’t afraid to ask the right questions at the right time. Once they master the art of listening and questioning they will be able to take a customer through the sales process and effectively get more sales.
The art of question should be an integral part of the training process for any sales team. As effectively asking the right questions is what helps sales reps succeed and help customers solve their problems. If sales reps are treated as consultants it is more likely that they would succeed in the job. This also build confidence in sales reps if they become product experts and would therefore be able to share their knowledge with the customers by building rapport. Building and rapport and trust are essential for any sales rep as this is was eventually makes a difference from a customer choosing you or just going online and purchasing a product based on their research. They are giving you the sale as they find value in your service and also trust you as you are trying to assess and their needs and provide them useful solutions which help them make a final decision. The best sales reps always have thought of insightful questions just by listening to the customers problems. This makes the customer feel valued and that is how trust starts to build. By training these methods to new sales reps they would not fall into the rookie mistake of just going through their sales pitch right when they meet a potential customer before building any trust. This way they tend to lose out on several potential sales just because they did not work on building rapport and trust which are key elements in sales.
- Adubato, S. (2007). Make the connection: Improve your communication at work and at home. New York: Barnes & Noble.
- Schuster, P and Danes, J. (1986). The Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management. Taylor & Francis Ltd.
- Karaman, J. (2018, August 16). What are ‘Confirming Questions’ in Sales? Retrieved from https://expertcaller.com/what-are-confirming-questions-in-sales/